The Day I Became Aware of Other Dori Kafri: A Reflection on Similarity Bias and Diversity

The Day I Became Aware of Other Dori Kafri: A Reflection on Similarity Bias and Diversity

August 14, 2023
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Around a week ago, Ofir, our brilliant community manager at MindSpace LaGuardia Tel-Aviv, nudged me toward an extraordinary discovery. “You see,” she said, “my best friend Adi is the mother of a boy named Dori Kafri,” a coincidence that immediately grabbed my attention. 

My name is Dori Kafri.

It is not a common name. And so, it was both an unusual and fascinating occurrence to come across another individual who shares the same name.

I requested Ofir to send me a picture of this young Dori Kafri. And a few hours later, I found myself looking at the photograph of a jubilant 3-4-year-old child with a birthday crown of flowers adorning his head. Instantly, I felt an uncanny connection. It was a form of similarity that felt strange and yet profound. I immediately forwarded this picture to my wife, friends, and family, introducing them to the other Dori Kafri.

The uncommon combination of our last and first names invoked a sense of affinity in me, a kind of unconscious kinship. As I looked at Dori’s photo several times, I found myself pondering over this mysterious sense of connection. This experience reminded me of Adam Grant’s insightful book, ‘Give and Take.’ In his book, Grant explores the power of generosity and networking, advocating that givers, who selflessly help others without expecting anything in return, ultimately achieve greater success and fulfillment in their personal and professional lives.

The similarity bias in the Workplace

Adam Grant delves into the concept of similarity bias, the human tendency to favor those similar to us in some aspects. The similarity bias can lead people to form stronger bonds and feel more comfortable with those like them, potentially limiting their ability to collaborate effectively and benefit from diverse perspectives. This bias is particularly prevalent in recruitment and selection processes, where interviewers often favor candidates who share their backgrounds, interests, or even alma maters.

Grant tells the story of Adam Rifkin, a serial entrepreneur, who was named the most connected man on LinkedIn by Fortune magazine. Rifkin’s success was largely based on his habit of giving and helping others without expecting anything in return. When Rifkin discovered on LinkedIn another person named Adam Rifkin, who was also working in the tech industry, Rifkin felt compelled to help him out of a sense of shared identity. Rifkin reached out to this individual, helped him make connections, and ended up investing in his startup. 

This story is a great example of how similarity bias can sometimes result in positive outcomes. It’s fascinating how our minds are hard-wired to trust those who resemble us in some way or another. We are constantly influenced by these inherent biases that shape our perceptions and decisions.

Trusting our instincts? Confirmation bias and diversity

As humans, we often rely on our gut feelings and intuitions to guide us through various situations, from everyday interactions to critical choices. However, the inherent presence of confirmation bias, a cognitive bias that favors information confirming preexisting beliefs, can significantly impact the accuracy and reliability of our instincts. 

Confirmation bias is the human tendency to seek, interpret, and remember information in a way that confirms or supports our preexisting beliefs and opinions. This cognitive bias influences how people process information and show the way we interpret it. In essence, it creates a mental filter that unconsciously screens out dissenting viewpoints while amplifying those that reinforce our existing perspectives. This bias can manifest in various aspects of our lives, from personal relationships and political affiliations to professional endeavors and societal attitudes.

Similarity bias, confirmation bias, diversity, and the complex dynamics of job interviews

This realization led me to ponder upon the complex dynamics of job interviews. I’ve long been aware of the low validity of traditional interviews on the one hand and the questionable predictive power of entrance tasks or tests on the other. It’s surprising how these supposedly unbiased assessment methods can unconsciously propagate similarity and confirmation biases.

Adam Grant shares an interesting example of a law firm’s recruitment process. The firm found that its interviewers were often more impressed with candidates who shared their leisure activities or personal interests. This resulted in the recruitment of candidates not necessarily for their skills or qualifications but rather their perceived similarity to the existing members of the firm. This led the firm to adopt a more structured interviewing approach, where interviewers were given specific assessment criteria. The goal was to curb the influence of similarity bias and make the recruitment process fairer and more objective.

In the complex world of job interviews, similarity bias, and confirmation bias are critically linked to diversity. Whereas similarity bias influences how we form relationships, and confirmation bias affects how we engage with new information, both are critical when meeting a new candidate during a job interview. 

Our perception of the candidate and their ability to successfully perform the job is influenced by our preexisting biases and opinions. Both biases can hinder our objective thinking and appreciation of the candidate. As such, job interviews are a very limited tool for understanding the candidate’s personality. Job interviews’ validity is very limited when our preconceptions about information or social ties affect how we understand the candidates.

Hence, when we wish to promote diversity within organizations, these biases affect the way we hire. Diversity, in its more profound understanding, relates not just to the candidates’  ethnicity but also to our cognitive biases, which shape our perspective to begin with. Eventually, we are looking to hire people who resemble us, even if they might not be the optimal candidate for the job.

Reflecting on my 30+ years in High-Tech, I recall an incident from our DevOps Bootcamp. When interviewing candidates, I began by informing them that it wasn’t a screening interview. The motivation behind this approach was an unforgettable experience with an exceptional employee at Develeap, who had performed poorly in the initial interview. Despite my long-standing career and competence in conducting interviews, we nearly lost this talent due to a single initial misjudgment. The lesson: changing the context of the daunting interview can change the candidate’s perception of the situation and, consequently, change our predetermined understanding of their capabilities.

In another instance, one of our top five employees at Develeap didn’t pass the Bootcamp’s first screening test. It was only when we were able to learn about their unique skills in an unofficial channel that demonstrated their capabilities that we reconsidered. Eventually, he proved to be a great asset to our team. These experiences solidified my belief in the crucial importance of diversity in high-tech and business in general.

Dungeon and Dragons in hi-tech

There’s an anecdote I enjoy sharing about a group of high-tech enthusiasts who regularly meet to play Dungeons and Dragons (DND). It’s a strategic game that requires diversity. Each player selects a different role – Fighter, Wizard, Cleric, Rogue, Paladin, Ranger, etc. – to balance the team and prepare for any unforeseen challenges.

However, when it comes to their professional lives, these same individuals often display a preference for hiring people who are similar to them, be it in terms of age, background, or locality. It’s as though life isn’t a strategic game that requires the diverse skills and perspectives they seek in the fantastic world of their game.

The need for diversity

Simon Sinek emphasizes the need for diversity, particularly when serving the general public. He argues that we need varied perspectives to cater to diverse clientele better. Numerous studies, including those from Harvard, corroborate this view, indicating that diverse teams often outperform homogeneous ones.

Part of this superior performance could be attributed to people’s slight discomfort within diverse teams. It challenges their biases and pushes them out of their comfort zones, fostering a climate of innovation and critical thinking. This is a testament to the invaluable role of diversity in fostering a thriving, innovative work environment. Diversity is not just about representation; it’s about harnessing the power of different perspectives to create a more resilient and creative society.

However, as Grant argues, while similarity bias can create connections and foster cooperation, it can also hamper diversity and innovation. When people continually surround themselves with like-minded individuals, they may overlook different perspectives and ideas essential for innovation and progress.

Discovering another Dori Kafri

Discovering another Dori Kafri made me ponder how similarity bias plays a role in our lives, professionally and personally. While the experience was heartwarming, it served as a reminder of the need to check our biases at the door and embrace diversity for all the richness it brings to our lives and organizations. We must keep reminding ourselves that just as we do in strategic games like DND, we need diversity in real life to anticipate and tackle various challenges innovatively. It’s a lesson I will take forward in my future interactions and decisions.

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